Members of the media were reportedly assaulted by police officers Saturday while covering protests in Berkeley, California, the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists wrote in a letter to Mayor Tom Bates and Police Chief Michael K. Meehan Monday.
Nationwide protests over the decision not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner have been largely peaceful, but events turned violent over the weekend in Berkeley as demonstrators clashed with police.
According to the letter, several journalists were struck with police batons during the unrest while clearly displaying press credentials and, in some cases, verbally identifying themselves as members of the media. In one instance, a photographer was allegedly hit on the head with a baton, which, according to the SPJ, "can constitute deadly force and is only justifiable under extremely limited circumstances."
"We are sure that you agree attacks on journalists are entirely unacceptable," the letter read. "Reporters are on scene to report the news as it happens. They are not participants in the protests. Under no circumstances should members of the press be subject to such gratuitous and potentially deadly police violence."
The organization said they condemned the actions of the officers in the "strongest terms possible," and urged Mayor Bates and Chief Meehan to make sure all police "respect the constitutional rights of the press."
SPJ Northern California Chapter president Lila LaHood told The Huffington Post in an email Monday night that such harassment of the press cannot be tolerated.
Read LaHood's full statement below:
"It is disturbing that Berkeley police physically assaulted nonviolent protesters Saturday night. But it is perhaps more surprising and equally concerning that police assaulted working journalists who were there to cover the protest as a news event. SPJ NorCal has heard directly from reporters and photographers who said they were actively identifying themselves as journalists when they were hit by police batons; one was struck on the head.
It is important for journalists to be present at these events. Journalists cover public protests for no reason other than to inform the public. Their mistreatment and harassment by law enforcement is a serious attack on the public's right to know and should not be tolerated."